A corpus-based network analysis of 16th-century British grammar writing

Large-scale research of English grammar writing, in the sense of considering an extended period of time as well as not restricting the research to certain authors, grammar books or linguistic phenomena, is still sparse. Approaching this task, previous studies within the larger HeidelGram project (http://heidelgram.de) have investigated the linguistic means employed by 19th-century grammarians when referring to other grammar authors (Busse et al., 2019, 2020; Busse & Gather, 2017).

The aim of this study is to extend these findings to the newly compiled 16th-century part of the HeidelGram corpus. Considering that the concept of grammar has changed throughout the centuries (Downey, 1986, p. 337; McCarthy, 2020, p. 25), the data selection for the HeidelGram corpus, spanning the 16th to 19th centuries, is based on what we label to be an English grammar. For instance, William Bullokar's Brief Grammar for English, defining amongst other things parts of speech and grammatical cases, constitutes such a grammar.

Seeing as the 16th century marks the beginning of English grammar writing (McCarthy, 2020, pp. 19–20), it is to be expected, that there will be few, if any, references to other authors of English grammars. Rather, references to grammar writers of the so-called learned languages, especially Latin, are more likely. Further, the references found in the 16th-century grammars will be sorted along the six semantic categories suggested in previous work for 19th-century grammars (Busse et al., 2020, pp. 11–12). To account for a possible shift in reference strategies over time, these semantic categories will be reevaluated in the 16th-century context.

The above hypotheses will be investigated by tracing onomastic references in the 16th-century grammars using citation networks (see White, 2012). While the number of references to other authors will provide us with quantitative insights, the types of references will offer a qualitative perspective.


Busse, B., & Gather, K. (2017, July 24). HeidelGram: Network Analysis of Grammarians' References in 19th-Century British Grammars: A Corpus-Based Study, Birmingham. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/corpus/conference-archives/2017/general/paper211.pdf

Busse, B., Gather, K., & Kleiber, I. (2019). Paradigm Shifts in 19th-Century British Grammar Writing: A Network of Texts and Authors. In B. Bös & C. Claridge (Eds.), Norms and Conventions in the History of English. John Benjamins.

Busse, B., Gather, K., & Kleiber, I. (2020). A Corpus-Based Analysis of Grammarians’ References in 19th-Century British Grammars. In A. Cermakova & M. Malá (Eds.), Diskursmuster - Discourse Patterns: Vol. 20. Variation in Time and Space: Observing the World Through Corpora. De Gruyter.

Downey, C. (1986). The Constants and Variables Which Guided the Development of American Grammar Writing in the 18th and 19th Centuries. In G. Leitner (Ed.), Linguistische Arbeiten: Vol. 172. The English reference grammar: Language and linguistics, writers and readers (pp. 334–350). Niemeyer.

McCarthy, M. (2020). Innovations and Challenges in Grammar. Innovations and Challenges in Applied Linguistics. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429243561

White, H. D. (2012). Scientific and Scholarly Networks. In J. Scott & P. Carrington (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis (pp. 271–285). SAGE. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446294413.n19